© 2008 by Janice Byrd

Janice Byrd of McKinney: Why can't Hollywood just keep it clean?

Removing the gratuitous sex and violence from the movies would appeal to us Christians
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I love movies, always have, and I guess I always will. I also like radio dramas and listening to books on tape, which is not to say that I don’t like reading. I am a librarian, after all, with a penchant for oral book reviews. Movies are easier to revisit which I often do, and usually more conducive to discussion.

Personally I don’t like gratuitous foul language, violence and sex peppered throughout an otherwise good story. That’s why I was very sad to hear that CleanFlicks had lost its three-year court battle to edit out profanity, nudity, graphic sex scenes, and excessive violence from motion pictures. In early July U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled that, “CleanFlicks does irreparable injury to creative artistic expression.”

I don’t think so!

So, what is art, and what is gratuitous? One dictionary defines gratuitous as “uncalled for” and “involving no benefit.” Does seeing a graphic sex scene benefit the advancement of a story, or is the use of profanity art? When CleanFicks can clean up a movie by cutting no more than one or two minutes from the film, the offensive material appears to me to be uncalled for.

Of course, just eliminating profanity, nudity, and violence from a film doesn’t necessarily make the movie moral or even good. CleanFlicks did nothing to alter the story, even though most Christians would agreed that movie protaganists are prone to act in an amoral manner. In the case against CleanFlicks, however, movie content was not the issue. CleanFlicks apparently broke the U.S. copyright law, which allows only the copyright owner to permanently change the copyrighted material.

This lawsuit was not about the studios losing money, either. CleanFlicks purchased a copy of the original movie for every movie it edited. Hollywood producers edit their own movies for the airlines and for television, but they won’t sell those copies to the public, forfeiting a potentially huge profit. Besides, statistics prove that “family friendly” movies make more money than any other kind.

Judge Matsch suggested the reason why CleanFlicks was sued when he noted that the studios have made it clear that they don’t want to reach CleanFlick’s audience. Hollywood seems to be daring anyone with a different worldview, people of religious convictions, and parents trying to pass on moral values to their children to make their own movies. Well, maybe that’s not such a bad idea! After all, somebody’s beliefs, values, assumptions, and worldview are embedded into every movie.

For the most part, Christians have avoided the movie-making industry since the 1960’s, giving up any influence they might have had. Boycotts and protests have been ineffective in cleaning up Hollywood because they didn’t offer any alternatives. Now it seems that Christians are beginning to take the Hollywood challenge, not just to clean up the gratuitous parts, but to actually tell the story through the experiences of authentically moral characters.

Small independent production companies, Christian businessmen, and even churches are producing major motion pictures. Young people who care about decency and the effect of immoral behavior depicted on the big screen are studying theater and cinematography. More actors, directors, technicians, and photographers are expressing their own worldviews through film making. (Facing the Giants and One Night with the King are recent examples of such movies.)

Christians were once the world’s greatest defenders and producers of art. Let it be so again--in the movies.

Janice Byrd of McKinney is library director of the First Baptist Church of McKinney, a book performer and a Voices of Collin County volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is Janice@JaniceByrd.com.

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